Posts Tagged ‘immigration’


a calm spot before a later storm

It always happens at this particular intersection in Somerville. It’s where I  cross the street to make the final leg of my journey home. It is a one way street with two lanes of traffic, a dedicated bike lane, and a complicated long walk signal. Great for me as a pedestrian. Tough on drivers. I have become used to impatient drivers inching into the crosswalk, hoping they can catch a gap in traffic, so they can make a quick right on red. With an exaggerated sigh, I usually walk behind those cars because at least I know the drivers behind them can see me. Hopefully I can cross the street before the light turns green and everybody hits their gas pedals. A familiar sequence of events. That’s almost what happened yesterday.

There were two cars to the left of me blocking the crosswalk. I stepped behind them. But something was odd. There was a gap in traffic. One of the drivers blocking my path could have taken a right on red. Except she was too busy yelling obscenities at the driver of the car next to her. Now, I’m used to the obscenities flung around by Boston area drivers but this woman’s words were different. They stopped me in the middle of the street.

Time slowed. I scanned the front of the screaming woman’s car. There was no body damage. If the person in the other car had tried to go around her to make a right on red (which happens in that intersection), a simple “F*** you!” would have sufficed, and often does at that intersection. But this woman, a brown woman, chose to shout into the other person’s car, and I’m editing just a bit, “You, wetback, go back to your own country!”

And she kept repeating it, with such vociferous pounding anger that was so out of context to whatever fender bender may have happened, that she had silenced the drivers around her. An unusual feat in Boston. Not a car behind her honked. It was just her voice ringing in the air. I could see the muscles of her jaw as she strained to shout these ugly words at a stranger over and over and over again. That African American was no different than the young white men in Charlottesville carrying the tiki torches. No different. Hate is hate.

Then I became angry.

Sad, too, but mostly angry, and I mean really angry.

I wanted to rush up to that woman and say, “What the hell are you doing? What are you, a black Trump? Do you realize if white supremacist leaders could see you now they’d just sit back with a big smile as you display your stupidity? How dare you give into racism. Don’t you know your own history? Have you no respect for yourself? Why put down another human being that you don’t even know?”

In the end, common sense won out. I remembered that I am not 6’5,” simply 5’3″ and I could tell that the woman was a bit bigger than me. And while I remember just enough of my karate training to probably take her down, to what end? Getting physical would not have ended her ignorance or increased her empathy. Both drivers remained in their cars. No children were in danger that I could see. I had to acknowledge that I was standing in the middle of a street, the light about to turn green, with two cars to the left of me and two cars to the right of me. It would not have deescalated the situation for me to move forward … though clearly my first reaction was not to deescalate anything. The only weapon the woman brandished were words, though she did have that car. She could have backed over me. She was that irrationally enraged.

Time resumed its normal course. The light turned green. The two cars sped off. I finished crossing the street, continued my walk home, my thoughts full of disparagement. Phone calls with family and friends calmed me down. They all brought up “ignorance.” Ignorance is no excuse for such behavior. Just as there is no excuse for racism by anyone toward anyone.

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The statues stand on the shore of the Hudson River, ever-changing, at least for now. They are the effort of one man who has no special goal and who with his silence invites the viewer to read the rocks, as did the author of this guest post who shared these words and images over one hot, tumultuous weekend as the nation’s ears rang with the cries of a child.


Words and Images by Donna Stenwall

He literally balances one rock on top of another. That is it. It is amazing. Kids come by and knock them down and he keeps building. He’s been at it for 2 years. He thinks he will stop in August. The Parks Department said they wouldn’t be able to adopt it and care for it. Who knows what will happen.


In this moment, what do I see? The gentleman in the middle reminds me of the potbellied clown tipsy as he holds on to the lamppost. A paint on velvet picture from my youth.


The proud Victorian woman with her starched bonnet, chest held high, as they made their way from Europe to New York to start a new life.


The Puritan escaping persecution for her beliefs. Is she waiting for another ship to arrive? Gazing towards the world she left behind to start a new life in a new world. Would she even recognize this country she held with such hope and such promise? I do not.

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Eventually I had to mute the television. I could not listen to his voice, and so I watched him speak. I watched him gesticulate wildly. I watched him make the schoolboy faces suggestive of a naughty teen making fun of others and which brings out the naughtiness of the other schoolboys who laugh though they mostly know they should know better.  But since there’s no one around to hold any of them accountable, why not poke a little fun, right?

I watched the people behind him bathed in his dark light, their own eyes fiercely bright, as they gave praise to that which stood before them … this bold entity that made them feel good! Trump was nothing like them and yet in their minds they saw themselves or what they sought to be. A white man of inherited privilege and of wealth speaking crudely and with malice about all that was not wealthy and white and not American based on a skewed view of what it means to be American.

And what does it mean to be American? What would happen if every member of Congress had to sit and compose a 500-word essay on the subject? The President and V.P. could do it as well. How about everyone who is a member (so far) of the President’s cabinet? Or maybe better yet, as a writing prompt, have them each read the following poem by Emma Lazarus and respond to it in writing. Full sentences. No tweets. No emojis. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”



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I photographed this tree today. It stands in an adjacent property that has been purchased for development. Given the type of development taking place around me and across Boston, I don’t think the tree is part of the developer’s plan. Its roots may be strong but the tree will be cut down and those roots dug up. Change happens.

DSCN9552Near the tree there is a wild tangle of forsythia branches. For years I’ve watched the brown turn to green and then gold when it fully flowers. A bright sign of spring. I’ve always wanted to sneak onto the property, cut some branches and place them in a vase, like bringing the sunshine indoors. I think they will have the opportunity to bloom one more time before they too are dug up and tossed away. Part of the change.


I think a lot about change and how change happens. I’m not happy about the changes around me. I am at times near paralyzed by the scale of idiocy and inhumanity in the world right now and especially in my own country under what should be an insignificant presidency. I’m not always sure what to do except donate money where I can, give my time when that makes more sense, and send notes of gratitude (and occasionally of protest). One of my greatest regrets during Obama’s tenure is that I never sent a note of thank you. Not because he was a perfect president but because he was (and remains) a good man, an inspirational figure for the ages. Speaking of inspirational figures … I was looking for some words and came across a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. that seemed relevant.

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr. (1)

In a 1965 commencement address, Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, King spoke to Oberlin graduates about the strides that had been made in this country.  “We have come a long, long way since the Negro was first brought to this nation as a slave in 1619. In the last decade we have seen significant developments – the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing segregation in the public schools, a comprehensive Civil Rights Bill in 1964, and, in a few weeks, a new voting bill to guarantee the right to vote. All of these are significant developments, but I would be dishonest with you this morning if I gave you the impression that we have come to the point where the problem is almost solved.”

“Let nobody give you the impression that the problem of racial injustice will work itself out. Let nobody give you the impression that only time will solve the problem. That is a myth, and it is a myth because time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that the people of ill will in our nation – the extreme rightists – the forces committed to negative ends – have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic works and violent actions of the bad people who bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, or shoot down a civil rights worker in Selma, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Well, I do not feel I am silent, nor do I like to wait around, but I do feel a bit stalled at this moment. Stalled and appalled.  Appalled at what is taking place in this nation with regard to immigrants. Appalled, when I can stomach it, to view the websites of anti-immigration organizations and to see on their staff and boards people who look like me. And so darned appalled at the petty political games being played with “immigration deals” that leave hundreds of thousands of people in limbo. How are people expected to live with such constant anxiety in their lives? They just do. They live. And they act.

People taking action. That is the key, isn’t?

Today even as I grappled with the overwhelming amount of bad news in the headlines, I found uplift in a little video that was heartbreaking but ultimately so inspiring because it featured two people taking action, in two very different ways, and how those actions galvanized the people around them. Its worth a view when you have the time.



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Recently I “challenged” viewers to watch a video that was less than four minutes long featuring the dancer known as L’il Buck. This week I challenge you to view this video. On November 29, 1962 a benefit concert took place called The American Pageant of the Arts. In attendance was President and Mrs. Kennedy, Marion Anderson, Robert Frost, Van Cliburn, and many other stars of stage and screen. Leonard Bernstein was Master of Ceremonies. In this particular concert excerpt he introduces to America a 7-year old cellist named Yo-Yo Ma and his sister Yeou-Cheng Ma.

The benefit performance was to raise funds toward the creation of a National Cultural Center.


Today the National Cultural Center is known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Sources & Additional Reading



Hope for America/Government Support for the Arts – https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/hope-for-america/government-support-for-the-arts.html


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a wall I saw today

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)


Read more Langston Hughes and find other poems for inspiration, reflection and perhaps even motivation at https://www.poets.org/


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foreword to the interludes

On February 21, 2014, an article appeared in the New York Times reporting that the city intended to remove over 400 children from 2 homeless shelters.  The article goes on to highlight how these 400 are part of “a swelling population of 22,000 homeless children.” Such numbers have not been reported in New York since the Great Depression.  Nearly two decades before the Great Depression, on January 1, 1911,  Joseph Anthony Horne was born and then orphaned in that city.  He could easily have become homeless.

Young Horne

A Young Joseph Anthony?

Even then it was quite clear that there was a widening divide in the city, and across the nation, between haves and have-nots.  The late 1800s into the early 1900s was the Gilded Age  for the country, with a rapidly expanding economy resulting in some growing extremely wealthy (e.g. Carnegie, Mellon, Morgan, Vanderbilt, etc) while others sank into poverty.  Especially affected during this era were children like Joseph, i.e. those who were orphaned or abandoned.  Even for children remaining with their families, so many families had so few resources that children had to work alongside parents for survival.

Spinning Boy by Lewis Hine

Spinning Boy by Lewis Hine

Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, New York was a major port of entry for people of many backgrounds and skills seeking a new life for themselves and their children.  Some within the U.S. were eager to welcome these immigrants to work in growing cities and homestead “empty” lands out west.  When Joseph was born, the population of the U.S. was estimated at nearly 94 million.  In 1818, less than 100 years before his birth, the population had been only 9 million.  That staggering increase in population in such a short time was primarily due to immigration from England, Ireland and Germany (including territories then considered part of the German Empire like Poland).

Children Sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890) by Jacob Riis

Children Sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890) by Jacob Riis

For those immigrants who arrived with few funds, they took whatever jobs they could find.  New York photographer and journalist Jacob Riis chronicled the life led by some of these people in the late 1800s in his book How the Other Half Lives. So, even as on one side of the city people were enjoying the wealth and prosperity of “the age of innocence,” on the other side of the city, people were experiencing a very different life.  It is also around this time, in 1883,  American poet Emma Lazarus wrote The New Colossus, a poem that would be engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, including those famous lines:  “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

In the Home of an Itlaian Rag Picker, Jersey Street by Jacob Riis

In the Home of an Italian Rag Picker, Jersey Street by Jacob Riis

During this time, there were few labor laws in place to prevent mistreatment and abuses of all sorts.  In fact, in 1911,  one of the worst industrial disasters in U.S. history took place in New York City at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  A fire led to the deaths of 146 men and women who were killed by the fire, smoke inhalation or by jumping to their deaths.  The owners had locked the doors and any exits, a common practice in those times.  It was one of those tragic events that would help to usher in new workplace safety standards.  And eventually through the efforts of photographers like Lewis Hine child labor laws would be created as well.

Jo Bodeon, back-roper in mule room at Chace Cotton Mill, Burlington, VT, by Lewis Hine

Jo Bodeon, back-roper in mule room at Chace Cotton Mill, Burlington, VT, by Lewis Hine

Midnight at the Glassworks by Lewis Hine

Midnight at the Glassworks by Lewis Hine

As an investigative reporter for the National Child Labor Committe, Lewis Hine documented the working and living conditions of children across the U.S. between 1908 and 1924.  Many images can be found on the Library of Congress website.  Leading up to World War I (1914-1918), as manual labor work increased, there was no more cheap and readily available labor than that of a child.

Little Lottie A Regular Oyster Shucker, Bayou, LA, 1911, by Lewis Hine

Little Lottie A Regular Oyster Shucker, Bayou, LA, 1911, by Lewis Hine

Hughestown Borough PA Coal Company Breaker Boys by Lewis Hine

Hughestown Borough PA Coal Company Breaker Boys by Lewis Hine

Reformers, like those who started the National Child Labor Committee, and many other people were aware that the practice of putting children to work had to end, not only for their immediate safety but to facilitate giving them an opportunity for  schooling and increasing any chances they had at breaking out of a cycle of poverty.  One such reformer was philanthropist Charles Loring Brace.  In 1853, he formed the Children’s Aid Society in New York City.  At the time, abandoned and homeless children lived on the streets or were placed in institutions where they could stay until a certain age (e.g. 14) before being expected to leave.  Brace and others felt that it would be better to collect these children, and even to accept children from poor families who could not take care of them, and to send those children to live with families outside of the city, in farming communities.  These “foster families” could even adopt the children.  As for how these children, including an orphaned baby Joseph, would travel to one of these families? By train.

Celebration of completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad at what is now Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Utah. Photo by A. J. Russell, 1869

Celebration of completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad at what is now Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Utah. Photo by A. J. Russell, 1869

With the support of wealthy families like the Astors and other philanthropists, from 1854 to 1929, the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital, would send nearly 250,000 children of all ages by “orphan trains” to cities and towns across the country, primarily to the American Midwest.  The children ranged in age from babies like Joseph to teenagers.  Notices would be sent out to communities before the children departed.  Agents would be sent along with the children as chaperones.  Stories have been collected over the years.  It is clear that sometimes children were fostered as “helping hands,” but it is also clear that children were taken in to be cared for and loved as part of a family.  Such is likely the case with Joseph.

Orphan Train, Kansas State Historical Society

Orphan Train, Kansas State Historical Society

Joseph and a baby girl named Pearl were taken in by farmer  Anton J. Wisnieski and his wife, Anna.  The German-speaking couple of German and Polish ancestry would raise the two children in Webster Township, Dodge County, Nebraska.  So instead of growing up on the streets of New York City, young Joseph grew up on the Great Plains where he fished for buffalo carp in the Platte River and had many other adventures into the 1920s.  And then something happened. He felt a calling to travel back east and even cross the Atlantic into worlds very different from the farmlands of Nebraska.  In his travels, he would deepen his knowledge of “dead languages,” literature, music and religion and somehow pick up his first camera … just in time to return to the States and join the ranks of one of the most legendary groups of documentary photographers in U.S. history.

More about those adventures and that walk through history in March.

A Few Recommended Links …

The Gilded Age

Lost Children: Riders on the Orphan Train

PBS American Experience:  The Orphan Train

A History of the Orphan Trains

Washington Post article by Andrea Warren

Early Child Labor in U.S. with Lewis Hine Photography

NYTimes Slide Show of Jacob A. Riis Photography

Orphan Train: A Novel

National Orphan Train Complex

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I received an unexpected gift today.  A package from a family member who has been dealing with great tragedy.  Yet she’d taken the time to send me something out of the blue.  On the back of the package she had written that she had found the enclosed item in her father’s effects and thought that I might like it.  I opened the package to discover a magazine celebrating African American history.  The words quoted on the cover struck me, and made me want to share (and pair) with an image I took of a dusty toy.  Old words but still quite fitting in these times.  Have a good day, folks.

“We may have all come in different ships but we’re in the same boat now.” Martin Luther King, Jr.


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